London: Researchers have developed a revolutionary patch that contains a protein produced by house dust mites to treat asthma.The patch, which is worn on the arm or stomach, gradually releases tiny amounts of the protein into the skin.It is designed to `re-tune` the immune system so that it does not over-react when it comes into contact with mite droppings, which are a leading trigger for asthma attacks, the `Daily Mail` reported.Once the body`s defences have learned not to over-react - a process that can take several months - the patient can stop wearing the patch. As well as treating existing asthma sufferers, it is hoped the new patch could also be used to prevent the disease developing in the first place in children.House dust mites, which are related to the spider family, are usually less than half a millimetre long and whitish in colour. They thrive in dark and humid places at temperatures of around 25 degrees centigrade.As they feed on dead human skin cells, they gather in pillows, mattresses, clothing, carpets, and even soft toys. The precise connection between asthma and dust mite allergy is unclear. However, it is thought to be linked to the proteins in their droppings. When these are inhaled or touched by someone who is allergic to them, the proteins prompt the immune system to produce antibodies that cause the large-scale release of the chemical histamine. It is this rush of histamine that leads to swelling and irritation of the airways, causing to breathing difficulties and asthma attacks. Asthma sufferers who are sensitive to dust mite droppings are advised to take preventive measures. These include wiping walls and floors with wet cloths and using plastic curtains. The skin patch ? called ViaSkin ? could be a more practical solution. A tiny capsule in the asthma patch contains manufactured versions of the harmful proteins found in dust mite droppings. This form of treatment is known as immunotherapy and works by regularly exposing the immune system to tiny amounts of the offending protein. This daily exposure re-tunes the immune system so that it no longer interprets the proteins as a threat. Older immunotherapy treatments involved injecting harmful proteins into the body to re-educate the immune system. The patch, which has so far been tested on mice ? feeds a constant supply of tiny amounts through the skin, reducing the chances of an over-reaction by immune system cells. The first human trials are planned for early next year. Dr Samantha Walker, executive director of research and policy at Asthma UK, welcomed the breakthrough.
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